Getting Bees

Pardon the pun, but the English language makes it hard to talk about these apoidean insects without falling into word play (to bee or not…).

When it comes to bees, I have my own character arch. I grew up fearing them even though I didn’t see them often in my Chicago childhood. Some of this fear, like many fears, overlapped with hatred and ignorance. My mother was an insect hater, shooing away flies and ants, crushing the odd centipede and spider who dared to crawl around our apartment. My grandmother, who also raised me, was once stung by a bee in the supermarket, giving her a rounded bump on her otherwise flat bum. She was sure it was a bee. Reflecting  back, I’m not so sure. Bee stings on humans are in fact rare. Sure, beekeepers wear jumpsuits and netted hats, but they are after all trespassing and disrupting the bees’ homes.

If a bee were responsible for the bump on Grandma’s bum, it was because the old woman was asking for it. During summer months, she would wear white trousers and tops that were either all white, or white with some yellow print. She certainly dressed the part to attract pollinators. I suspect too that the allegedly aggressive bee sensed that Grandma lived on a diet of chocolate bars, coffee cake and Danish pastry, washed down many evenings with a vodka martini. The sweetness must have oozed from her skin.

Believing much of what I was told as a child, bees were to be feared and not swatted at as you would invariably miss, and the bee would come back around and sting you. You could end up in hospital! While there are people who have allergies to bee stings, they can be treated at home – but this rational couldn’t be accepted when I was growing up or even into early adulthood, where I would step nervously away from any bee I encountered.

I overcame my fear of bees in a single afternoon some dozen years after my grandmother’s purported incident. I was back in Edinburgh and took a day trip to the west coast of Scotland with my former landlady Erica, one of my surrogate mothers. We were in the gardens of some stately home having a picnic when a small bee came drifting over our food. Just when I was about to give Erica a warning, she noticed it and smiled, while luring the creature closer to her with a strawberry and directing it to a patch of heather. She made some comment about how ‘marvellous’ the creatures were.

In the time between my picnic with Erica and the bee and the present day, like any self-respecting environmental activist, I have learned about the value of bees. I’m thinking of the quote attributed to Albert Einstein, even if not completely accurate, it makes the point: ‘If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.’ In the popular press, I have also encountered some myths about bees. Not to detract from the dangers of pesticides and pollution, but the leading destroyers of bees are not manmade chemicals, but other insects, such as hornets and mites.

This brings me to one of the best books I’ve read recently, The Ardent Swarm, a novel by Tunisian writer Yamen Manai. A beekeeper in a village in Iraq loses thousands of his bees to an invasion of hornets. This is against the backdrop of Isis-like ‘holy men’ descending upon the village bringing gifts to influence the villagers to vote for them and join their militant cause.  The allegorical link between the destruction of the beehives and the lives of the villagers becomes apparent with the discovery that the hornets came over from East Asia in packages brought to the village by the ‘holy men.’

I’ve only just started to scratch the surface of books, fiction and non-fiction, about bees. This appears to be a topic full of aficionados and maybe even fetishists. While I do adore these creatures and worry about their survival, I don’t think I belong to either category. Having said that, I’ve recently purchased a Save the Bee packet from Friends of the Earth to do my bit. If Erica were around, I know she’d be proud of me.

(Whew, got through that without any more puns.)

Paul Theroux at 80

Time has folded up on me again with Paul Theroux celebrating his 80th birthday last weekend – surely, he can’t possibly be 80. The writer marked the occasion with an engaging essay in The New Yorker reflecting on his professional life, drawing on the personal and adding in a few points of literary criticism.  (Facing Ka‘ena Point: On Turning Eighty | The New Yorker). Theroux has long been a writer I can relate to as if we came from the same place and time – which his birthday and this current essay remind me we haven’t. Theroux grew up in a small town in Massachusetts in the 40s and 50s, a far cry from Chicago in the 60s and 70s. I probably share more experiences with Theroux’s sons, the documentary filmmakers Louis and Marcel in both life’s timelines and being more British than American.

We also couldn’t be more different when it comes to how we work as writers. In this New Yorker essay, he notes: ‘My method has not changed: still the first draft in longhand, to slow me down and make me concentrate, and then I copy it by hand, and finally I type it.’ Being a keyboard and screen aficionado, I can’t read this without feel bewildered and anxious.

I confess, I’ve only read one of Paul Theroux’s novels, The Mosquito Coast, and a few of his short stories. My secret friendship with Theroux comes from reading his essays about his travels and his family, revealing how he has developed psychologically over the years. In Granta 48, he wrote wryly about his time in Malawi working for the Peace Corps and living in a leper colony. I read it in the early 90s and still remember details from it today. Although my experiences as a traveller and someone who has lived in different countries isn’t as dramatic as that, thankfully, there is camaraderie in being the outsider, bringing humour to the most stressful of situations and reinventing yourself along the way.

Years later, Theroux again writing in Granta described large families: ‘The words “big family” have the same ring for me as “savage tribe”, and I now know that every big family is savage in its own way.’ This rings true with my own experience, and I still have a few scars. We both are one of seven children, Theroux in the middle and I the runt of the litter. In the current New Yorker piece, looking over his 80 years, he brings this up again, but from a different angle. Theroux and I escaped our large families by leaving home early, fending for ourselves, ‘living by my [or our] wits.’ I know exactly what he means when he writes about moving far away from family and saying, ‘I didn’t know the word “individuation,” the process of separation by which one gains a sense of self.’ If my life had a title or heading (I still don’t know what it would be), the sub-header would include this idea of individuation.

Many happy returns, PT, from another PT. 

Middlebrow reading and moving house

Just before moving house a few of weeks ago, I had started doing the keyboard equivalent of jotting down ideas about ‘middlebrow’ reading for this blog. I was going to recommend a few books that I’ve recently read but realised that middlebrow is a highly subjective term. That was around the time we had thought contracts had been exchanged on the buying of one property and the sale of  another, but they had not and we hadn’t heard from our solicitor in days. It looked like everything was going to fall through.

Back to the blog. What is meant by middlebrow has changed in connotation over the years. For modernists like Virginia Woolf, middlebrow was pejorative, reserved for aspiring intellectuals and cultural poseurs. The post-modernists, I guess I fit in best with that grouping if it doesn’t get me trolled, give middlebrow a more neutralised power as part of the general culture, accessible and culturally significant as an art form.

Moving house is stressful and all encompassing. It permeates all thoughts. While I was reading Little Fires Everywhere, a social satire by Celeste Ng, the subplot about a mother and daughter living a nomadic existence, going from one town to the next, became the main plot because it involved moving. The real main plot for those of you not moving home revolves around the Richardsons, a suburban American family run by a stereotypical 50’s era mother (though the story is set in the 90s). Their lives, brimming with secrets and intrigue, are rocked by the arrival of an artist, Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl and a court case involving the adoption of a child abandoned by its mother. The different threads come together in this study of identity and motherhood.

Contracts were finally exchanged and moving day was just a few days away when I found a quote to use in my blog. Ezra Pound once said: ‘Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.’ I’m assuming ‘great literature’ refers to highbrow, keeping with the literary banter of the day. Interesting, but ‘charged with meaning’ could mean many things, such as colourful metaphors or turns of phrase or it could signify language that is meaningful in the context that it has created and described. The house we’re moving to does not have a functioning kitchen. Cooking food and eating are meaningful. My mind drifted around design plans and buying a stove and hob, avoiding the meaning of meaning.

Moving day went smoothly despite Covid restrictions – everyone wearing masks, doors and windows open, social distancing with the broadband installer and movers. That is, everything went smoothly until we closed the windows and turned on the heat. Nothing – no heat in a house that had been empty for six months. To make matters worse, that February afternoon it was 7C, and it would be five days before we would have a working boiler.

During these chilly days huddled around a portable electric heater, I thought about the other middlebrow read that I was going to recommend, Andrew Miller’s Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, much of which takes place in the cold.  Lacroix, a wounded British officer, has returned from the Napoleonic Wars haunted by an atrocity that occurred in a Spanish village. Once he has recovered, he is ordered to return to fighting, but instead flees to Scotland. His travels include arriving in Glasgow, where he is mugged on the street and his boots are stolen. All I could think about is feet numb with cold. In the meantime, a kangaroo military tribunal decides that Lacroix is to blame for the killings in the Spanish village, and soon he is being chased by two comically inept officials. The story develops along the lines of thriller and romance, peppered with comic moments and Lacroix’s sagacious reflections.

Three weeks on from our move, the new kitchen has been installed and David has laid down wood floors in two of the rooms, including my office. With books on the shelves and boxes unpacked, I continue to read good fiction, middlebrow and highbrow, I suppose.

Inauguration Poetry

Agreed, Amanda Gorman’s reading of her poem was the highpoint of the Biden/Harris inauguration. ‘The Hill We Climb’ is clearly inspirational, a poetic version of a political speech that like Biden’s inaugural address identified the malaise America finds itself in while not shaming by naming the last occupant of the White House. Gorman’s poem was beautifully delivered and appropriate in the context of place and ceremony.

Reading it on the page, however, was a less satisfying experience for me. The repetition of ideas expressed through different analogies and the length of the work took away some of the sparkle. Having said that, I’ll quote the passage that struck me as the most valuable for our times:

We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens.

It may have been written for America, battered from the last presidency and threatened by domestic terrorism, but it applies to all citizens of our planet. We are all stricken with an environmental crisis for which inaction is no longer an option. I also like this passage’s cathedral thinking – a willingness to work on project that we know will not be completed in our lifetimes.

The final stanza of Gorman’s poem, with its repetition of ‘we will rise from…’ I assume to be a nod to Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise,’ a more famous poem than ‘On the Pulse of the Morning,’ which she wrote and performed (she was truly a performer) for Bill Clinton’s inauguration.

Common to these inauguration poems, including Richard Blanco’s ‘One Today’, read at President Obama’s swearing in, are the references to different states and parts of the country with their varied landscapes. A bit of ‘American The Beautiful’ meets Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land is Your Land.’ Which I think is a shame, making the works appear more derivative than intertextual.

Perhaps one of the best inauguration poems wasn’t intended for the ceremony at all. For Kennedy’s inauguration Robert Frost struggled with sun in his eyes and the wind flapping the pages of his specially written poem. He soon gave up and  recited from memory ‘The Gift Outright,’ which he knew was a favourite of JFK’s. First published in the 1940s, ‘The Gift Outright,’ unlike the other mentioned poems, is short and doesn’t go from sea to shining sea. It recounts the founding of America by the early colonists, who claimed the land, but didn’t actually possess it until they fought for it and created their own government. The poem ends fittingly with the idea that America’s future lies in the creation of its own history, stories and art:

To the land vaguely realizing westward, 
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced, 
Such as she was, such as she will become.

Postscript: The last president didn’t have any poetry at his inauguration. But in this way he wasn’t unique or his usual un-presidential self. No Republican has ever had a poet read at his inauguration. Even poetry is partisan in America.

Writing in the New Year

I’ve kept journals for years but sporadically, going through stretches of daily journal writing when I lived overseas to once every couple of weeks when I was in the throes of a writing assignment, squeezing in the odd journal entry to capture an idea before it flew away. For this New Year, I thought I’d try something different by vowing to write in my journal every day for the whole of 2021.

While I write nearly every day anyhow, this is a different type of writing. When I was in South Korea and Oman writing in a journal every day was easy as there was plenty to write about – different cultures, languages, new people and problems with being a foreigner. A daily journal at this stage in my life – when so many things seem pointless – is both a challenge and (my reason for doing this) a much-needed form of therapy, woven into a writing exercise. I’m following the advice of the master diarist Virginia Woolf, who once said, ‘the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments.’

Ultimately, this is about writing. It brings to mind too the words of Joan Didion, writing some years ago for London Magazine on why she writes. She describes the moment when she realised that she was a writer:

‘By which I mean not a “good” writer or a “bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper…. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.’

The challenge lies in the practice of doing this every single day. I do have other daily routines that require some discipline – I meditate, exercise and do something in French and/or Italian every day without thinking about it, and more importantly, I feel a sense of being out-of-sorts until I have done these things. I’ve been doing this typing version of scribbling in this daily journal for seven days now. So far, so good, but I am still at a point of having to remind myself to do it.

I don’t know what all of this journal writing will bring. It could lead me in the direction of Virginia Woolf, who like me was an erratic, undisciplined journal writer until she turned 33 (okay, younger than me now), when she took up journaling and continued until four days before her death.

I’ll close with a sample, proof that I’m really doing this. In future, I won’t be directly sharing these journal entries with you, dear reader, as that would take away their magic powers.

7 January 2021

Trump supporters have finally had the day that they have lived for – armed and angry, they’ve stormed the capitol and attempted a coup on the US government. They were talking this way long before Trump came on the scene. Now, they’re headlining the news and might even make it into the history books. As remarkable and unbelievable as this all seems, it was predictable, the stuff of dinnertime conversations with friends over the past four years. Shock and expectation entangled – the mind is more complicated than we give it credit for.

Best wishes for the New Year. Keep reading, keep writing.

A Song of Heroic Deeds

Maylis de Kerangal’s Mend the Living (called The Heart in its US translation) turned out to be just the book to read during these weeks of lockdown and restricted movement. Set in France, it’s a story of a heart transplant. Before starting, I knew nothing about the book and thought that it might be either a spiritual story where the person with a new heart develops some of the personality of the organ donor, or that it would be an edgy story about a black market of organ harvesters.

Neither of these plotlines are the case. It’s a simple story taking the reader from the sudden death of Simon, aged 19, to the donation of his heart into a woman in her fifties who’s suffering from mitochondria. Taking place in 24 hours, the narrative goes through the lives of all of those involved with the heart transplant, from his traumatised parents to the doctors and nurses involved with Simon’s care to the organ specialist, who matches the organ to the recipient. De Kerangal takes us into the lives of both surgical teams and the transport team that has to get the heart on to a plane and across Paris in a traffic jam. We also encounter Clare, the transplant recipient, full of fear and hope, knowing the difficulty of the procedure and the promise it brings. With the story of most of the characters being driven by a greater good, the book has been called ‘un chanson de gestes,’ a song of heroic deeds, used to refer to heroic epics of the Middle Ages.

In this modern tale, the writing is rich in medical detail and interwoven with psychological, philosophical and metaphysical perspectives:

‘The moment of death is no longer to be considered as the moment the heart stops, but as the moment when cerebral function ceases. In other words: I no longer think, therefore I no longer am. The heart is dead, long live the brain—a symbolic coup d’état, a Revolution.’

The heart’s journey has the pacing of an adventure story and is paralleled by the emotional journey each character undertakes. Though brain dead, Simon’s heart and other organs live on medically speaking and metaphorically for his family. Their coming to terms with their son’s death is both comforted and complicated by the realisation that he could help others live.

‘How long does it take them before they accept death’s new regime? For now, there is no possible translation for what they are feeling; it strikes them down in a language that precedes language from before words, before grammar, an unsharable language that is perhaps another name for pain. Impossible to extricate themselves from it, impossible to substitute another description for it, impossible to reconstruct in another image.’

As you can see from these quoted passages, de Kerangal is a lover of language, a true stylist.  The novel is peppered with metaphors and analogies, along with the occasional pun – one character has the English name of Cordelia Owl, another, the head surgeon of the transplant team, is referred to simply by his surname, Harfang, which means owl in French.

There’s a lot more to say about the use of language in this story of heroes, but it’s better enjoyed when it’s discovered.

Election Day 2020

With fears of election-day violence, America has joined corrupt and disreputable countries around the world. Thank you, Mr President – this is on your watch.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this presidential election might be the most important one of our lifetimes. How so? I’ve narrowed this down to two reasons, both of which have been touted by political pundits, newspaper columnists and the like. This is my take in the context of the films and books that influence my thinking.

Reason 1 – democracy is at stake. Over the past four years, the world has watched a wannabe autocrat in the Whitehouse fight against the institutions of American governance and the freedom of the press. Among the many examples of this, what first comes to mind are Tr**p’s public criticisms of the FBI, the CIA and most recently and most alarmingly the Centers for Disease Control. Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Risk has been one of several books to expose of the Tr**p transition team and the way this president set up his antigovernmental administration, a  heady mix of inexperienced individuals and those with a grudge against certain branches of government.

And the media has had it worse. On top of frequent references to the media as ‘fake’ and ‘public enemies,’ let’s not forget the many instances of reporters being targeted and arrested while trying to report on demonstrations. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Netflix has recently produced The Chicago Seven, about the kangaroo trial of seven anti-war protesters during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. From aggressive policing to an openly racist and bias judicial system, echoes of Tr**p’s treatment of the media resound.

Reason 2 – the planet is at stake. Not only has the 45th president of the US started the process of pulling America out of the Paris Climate Accord, he’s a supporter of the fossil fuel industry, a climate change denier and has reversed over one hundred acts of legislation by the EPA during Obama’s presidency. A couple of good books I’ve read recently that cover this president’s treatment of the environment include Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine and David Wallace-Well’s The Uninhabitable Earth.

There is perhaps a third reason why this is such an important election. But I’ve changed my mind a few times about the real importance of this. Okay, here goes. America’s reputation is at stake. As I would like to see a more balanced world, with a more equitable distribution of wealth, the US doesn’t need to keep its position as an economic superpower. I would be even happier still if it were not a military superpower. Despite these misgivings, I’d like to see America retain some of its influence in the world as a source for good. (Hard to imagine at times, I know. Sorry if I sound like Jimmy Stewart in Mr Smith Goes to Washington.) Voting Tr**p back into office is at the very least condoning criminality at the highest level of government. With all of the noise and distractions to come from this Whitehouse, it’s easy to forget that Tr**p was impeached by The House of Representatives for trying to bribe a foreign government. Even Tr**p’s lawyers admitted that this is what he did, but argued to the Senate that this was not an impeachable offence. There is also the matter of Tr**p’s tax records, the cases of fraud against his businesses and the allegations of sexual harassment and abuse.  A Tr**p win tonight (or tomorrow, depending on your time zone) tells the rest of the world that America wants to be represented by a man clearly unfit for the job, in addition to of course his being a vulgarian, a defender of white supremacists, an habitual liar… I’ll stop myself there – you’ve heard it all before.

I’ve realised that I’ve only made reference to non-fiction books and a film based on true events. Let’s not forget the importance of fiction and poetry at times like this. I’ll close with a quote within a quote from Emily Nemens, the editor of the Paris Review, commenting yesterday on election eve: ‘As Manuel Puig put it, “I like to re-create reality in order to understand it better.” May we all understand the world a bit better once this week is through.’

Reflections on Senghor

This is not in honour of Black History Month, which, like Women’s History Month, we wouldn’t need if the rest of the year weren’t full of White Men’s History months.

I’ve recently discovered the Senegalese poet, scholar and statesman, Léopold Sédar Senghor, who was Senegal’s first president (1960-80) following French colonial rule.

It’s hard to sum up a poet’s style, but what draws me to Senghor’s oeuvre are the rhythms of this work and his metaphors with quirky comparisons. From his ‘Femme Noire’ (translated from French):

Black woman, obscure woman           

Oil that no breath ruffles, calm oil on the flanks of the athlete, on the flanks of the princes of Mali

Gazelle with celestial ties, the beads are stars on the night of your skin.

A more straightforward piece of his writing, which I’m told is learned by every French schoolchild, needs to be read in full (translated from French):

Poème à mon frère blanc

When I was born, I was black;

When I grew up, I was black;

When I’m in the sun, I’m black;

When I’m sick, I’m black;

When I die, I’ll be black…

While you white man,

When you were born, you were pink;

When you grew up, you were white;

When you’re in the sun, you’re red;

When you’re cold, you’re blue;

When you’re scared, you’re green;

When you’re sick, you’re yellow;

When you die, you will be grey…

So, of the two of us,

Who is the man of colour??

Feel free to consider this blog entry as a contributor to Black History Month if you must, but my original intention was to provide an antidote to the bombastic and inarticulate language of the current US president and the current UK prime minister. This is the point when I hark back on a time when some national leaders possessed intellectual curiosity and lyrical expression.

Boyd’s Any Human Heart

Again, I’m a bit late coming to a modern classic, which is odd as I’ve enjoyed so many of William Boyd’s novels (such as A Good Man in Africa and Armadillo)  and essays about literature, and I had the pleasure of hearing him give a talk about his writing. I should have been up on this years ago.

Forgive me if you’re already familiar with this story – it was, after all, made into a miniseries for Channel 4 in the UK and won a few Emmys when it appeared in the US in 2010. In the original book, the story is told through the journals of Logan Mountstuart, following his life as a chronicler of the twentieth century Anglo-European and American experience.  As an avid journal writer, I could identify with the use of journals to not only record one’s life, but to better understand oneself. Logan writes, ‘We keep a journal to entrap that collection of selves that forms us, the individual human being.’ Humorous in their raw honesty about sexuality and human weaknesses, these journal entries reflect the eclectic prose style of Logan, who is a reviewer of art and a war correspondent along with being an author of fiction and non-fiction.

With some degree of notoriety, Logan finds himself hobnobbing with Ian Fleming, Hemingway, Picasso, Evelyn Waugh and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. This latter encounter grows into a friendship of sorts during the war when Logan finds himself working for the UK intelligence services. For those of you who enjoy unsolved murders, Boyd gives us another interpretation of the famous murder of Sir Harry Oakes in Nassau in 1943 when the Duke of Windsor was governor there. Boyd wrote for The Guardian about his fascination with this true-life mystery and the poetic license taken when embedding it into his novel.

This book also presents an acute self-awareness that lifts this story away from being merely about its espionage plotlines and celebrity characters. For this reader, the most poignant of Logan’s realisations occurs later in life, acknowledging what he brought on himself, such as failed relationships, mixed into a life of happenstance. From my teenage years well through to my twenties I believed that I was responsible for all that happened to me. Bad things that happened were my own fault as I had somehow ‘projected’ them. Realising the roles played by society (especially for women) and twists of fate (with no obvious cause or agent), I have expunged this warped new-age thinking from my life. My conclusions are now similar to Logan Mountstuart’s – life is a mélange of what we bring to it and what is thrown at us – good or bad.

Even though I came to Any Human Heart rather late, its ideas, in their universality, still apply. A sign of a worthwhile read.

He, Lord Cromwell

Of the Hilary Mantel trilogy, the first book is still my favourite, but now only by a whisker, having just finished The Mirror and the Light.  Of course, Wolf Hall has the advantage of being the first, the freshness of introducing the world of the text. Some might object to my ranking of these books, something film critics do all the time when faced with sequels, but it’s worth pointing out that the first film in a series is often the best received – notable exceptions including Godfather 2 and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Thinking about all three books in this way is useful from a writer’s perspective. While all three were immensely satisfying to read, I was less taken by the second book, Bring up the Bodies, mainly because I found it a bit soapy. Its main story was the demise of Anne Boleyn, her affairs – real and created by others. This second novel covers the shortest period of time of the trilogy, the king’s 3-year marriage to Boleyn, and was still a hefty tome. The pacing may have suffered. Wolf Hall takes us from Thomas Cromwell’s childhood through his stint as a soldier and working for Cardinal Wolsey up to his time as counsel to Henry VIII to the end of the king’s first marriage. The Mirror and the Light starts in the immediate aftermath of Anne’s beheading and continues through his brief marriages to Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves. Over these four years, we follow Cromwell’s illustrious career expanding with ever new and important titles, while dealing with the lingering presence of the beheaded queen, the fraught interval between the king’s marriages, the religious revolts across the country and the rising clashes with the pope and other powers in Europe. This final novel also gives the impression of covering a greater time span in its references to persons and events from the earlier books.

Like the first two instalments, The Mirror and the Light uses the same dry sense of humour that comes out in the observations of the ridiculous self-serving characters and the system of aristocracy and the caustic wit of Thomas Cromwell. The anti-hero’s wry sense of irony and gift with language comes out not only when he speaks, but also in his internal dialogue (mostly free indirect thought, for you literary stylisticians).

On the topic of language, this is the highlight of reading anything by Mantel. While there are many quotable gems from The Mirror and the Light, I’ll share with you a couple of examples.

‘But the law is not an instrument to find out truth. It is there to create a fiction that will help us move past atrocious acts and face our future. It seems there is no mercy in this world, but a kind of haphazard justice: men pay for crimes, but not necessarily their own.’

On a lighter note, one of the chapters opens with this:

‘”My lord?” a boy says. “A gravedigger is here.” He looks up from his papers. “Tell him to come back for me in ten years.’” 

If this were a film review, I’ve just given you some clips, coming attractions that don’t give anything away. Staying with the analogy, let’s talk awards and prizes. Although The Mirror and the Light is well-deserving of a Booker Prize, Mantel already has her Bookers for the first two of the trilogy. Like Oscars, sometimes, it’s not about bestowing prizes on the best, but allowing others to win.